Monday, 19 February 2018

Life in a fourteenth-century town By April Munday #History @AprilMunday

Life in a fourteenth-century town
By April Munday

If the Doctor whisked you off in his Tardis to a town in the second half of fourteenth-century England, what would you notice?
The first thing might be the noise, or the lack of it. You might hear dogs barking, people talking, birds singing and church bells marking the liturgical hours of the day. You would not hear cars, or planes, or engines of any kind. You’ll even be able to hear birds singing.
Since the Doctor has brought you to a town on the south coast, you will see that it’s encircled by a strong, stone wall. England and France have been at war since 1337 and the French have attacked and burned towns along the coast, including this one. It’s important to protect the town from them.
There are gates at various points along the wall. If you’re in the town for long enough you’ll see that the gates are closed at sunset and aren’t opened again until sunrise. No one is allowed in or out during that time.
If you go into a building you’ll notice that the walls are painted or, in wealthier homes, covered in tapestries. Wall are usually painted white first and then painted over with symbols and patterns. The colours will be bright, like the clothes you see around you. Even the parish church is colourful. The statues of the saints are painted, as are the tombs, the walls and the pillars. Since most people still can’t read, the walls of the church are covered in pictures telling stories from the Bible. There’s probably a large doom painting somewhere showing the different fates of those sent to hell and those sent to heaven. There are no chairs in the church. If you come here for mass, you’ll stand.

Romsey Abbey

The streets will mainly be full of people on foot, but you will probably see some people on horseback, women as well as men. Everyone walks or rides. A wealthy sick person might lie on a litter carried by two horses, but no one will be in a carriage. Only the fabulously wealthy can afford them and there are only four or five of them in the whole of England.
Most towns have places where itinerant preachers can stand and address the crowds which flock to them. The audience is thrilled to hear about how they can live in a way that pleases God. This is not what they hear from their parish priests and some of them are not sure what to think of their priests, anyway. The priests, and their bishops, failed to give any warning about the Black Death and many of them died along with their parishioners. It seems that God holds them in no higher regard than he does anyone else.
If you walk through the town, you’ll see very quickly that it’s small. It won’t take you long to walk from one end to the other, or one side to the other. After the Black Death the population of England is about four and a half million and the vast majority of those do not live in towns.
As you go through the town you’ll see the shops.  You rarely have to go inside a shop. They’re open-fronted, with the counter facing out into the street. There are also men and women walking the streets selling their wares as they go.

Counter of Medieval Merchant’s House, Southampton.


One thing you will probably notice, even in a busy town, is that people know one another. People live in a community and parishes cover a small geographical area. They go to mass together and to one another’s funerals. People who live next door to one another know exactly what’s going on in the next house. They live very close to one another and will probably stare at you, a stranger, as you pass by.

April Munday

April Munday is the author of romances set in the fourteenth century. She lives in Hampshire, where many of her stories are set.  In her head she lives in the fourteenth century, but only in her head; she has learned far too much about life in the Middle Ages to want to live there in reality.  She is inspired by the remnants of the past which are part of her local landscape. Her latest series, The Soldiers of Fortune, is set after the Battle of Poitiers, which changes the lives of four brothers.
You can find April over on her blog and on Facebook.

The Heir’s Tale


 Ancelin Montfort returns to England as his father's heir, following the death of his older brother at the Battle of Poitiers. Everything he does from now on is to prepare him to be the Earl of Somerton, even marrying the woman his father has chosen for him.

Emma has loved Ancelin through the months of his absence, but the man who has returned from war is not the man who left. As the day of their wedding draws near, she wonders if she ever knew him at all. Then he accuses her of betraying her with another man. Can she convince him of her innocence? Does she want to?

Saturday, 17 February 2018

Author’s Inspiration ~ Tom Williams #HistoricalFiction #HistFic @TomCW99

Please give a warm welcome to historical fiction author, Tom Williams.

Author’s Inspiration

When I was much younger than I am now, I travelled out to Singapore to spend Christmas with my mother-in-law. My mother-in-law was wonderful person in many ways, but could be a bit difficult to spend the whole of the holidays with, so my wife decided that, as a reward, she would take me to spend a few days in Borneo.
It was an amazing trip.
We stayed in Kuching, the capital of Sarawak, and set off from there to head upriver to spend time in a long house with the indigenous Dyak people. Many of the Dyaks still lived on the most basic slash and burn cultivation and the food they could catch in the jungle. We politely declined eating the monkey that we saw them cooking over an open fire – it looked far too much like a baby as they scraped the fur off to reveal the pink meat below. We caught a tiny mouse deer ourselves and contributed it to the collective pot. It was a magical few days and almost certainly unrepeatable, for the last couple of decades have seen logging destroy much of the habitat the Dyaks rely on to live, while mass tourism means that trips like those we made then are probably by now impossible.

It was on that trip that I first came across James Brooke. The museum in Kuching had an exhibition of Sarawak's history with a large display on 'The White Rajahs' next to a much smaller display on 'The Colonial Era'. I was confused. The White Rajahs were clearly, well, white. Why was it that while the tone of 'The Colonial Era' was rather disapproving (it mainly seems to have consisted of killing the Governor), 'The White Rajahs' display hinted at a Golden Age?

The answer seems to have been the extraordinary relationship the first White Rajah, James Brooke, had with the people of Sarawak. Sarawak then was a province of a much bigger country ruled by Muda Hassim in Brunei. Hassim gave the rule of Sarawak to James Brooke as a reward for Brooke's help suppressing a rebellion there. Brooke insisted that Sarawak was not part of the British Empire and he set out to rule as an enlightened despot.

At the centre of the exhibition was a portrait of James Brooke. It was a copy of the one in London's National Portrait Gallery.

Portrait of Sir James Brooke by Sir Francis Grant
National Portrait Gallery London. Used with permission

I saw it and just wanted to know more about this astonishingly handsome, dashing man who had taken a tiny country halfway round the globe from his home and made it his own. When I got back to England I started to read all I could find about him. It wasn't that difficult. His diaries were published, as were those of Keppel, the admiral who helps him defeat the pirates. I found myself getting more and more caught up in his story and, because I had always wanted to write, I decided to turn it into a novel. What I aimed for was an old-fashioned yarn with an old-fashioned hero and, up to a point, I succeeded. But in the end, although it got representation by a well-known agent, it really wasn't good enough for publication. I put it away and forgot about it.

Years passed and I found myself writing lots of non-fiction, often anonymously. I decided that I owed it to myself to write the novel I've always planned for. We were moving into an age when Western armies were invading remote countries, often with noble intentions but sometimes with terrible consequences. I wanted to write about how good people could end up involved in questionable wars and horrifying massacres. I remembered that James Brooke had himself been involved in a massacre which, at the time, had horrified liberal opinion in Britain and resulted in a Commission of Inquiry in Singapore. I decided to go back to my original novel and rewrite it as a much darker piece with a flawed hero.
The result was The White Rajah. Endeavour Press are publishing a new edition of this on 16 February. I hope you enjoy it.

Tom Williams
Have you ever noticed how many authors are described as ‘reclusive’? I have a lot of sympathy for them. My feeling is that authors generally like to hide at home with their laptops or their quill pens and write stuff. If they enjoyed being in the public eye, they’d be stand-up comics or pop stars.
Nowadays, though, writers are told that their audiences want to be able to relate to them as people. I’m not entirely sure about that. If you knew me, you might not want to relate to me at all. But here in hyperspace I apparently have to tell you that I’m young and good looking and live somewhere exciting with a beautiful partner, a son who is a brain surgeon and a daughter who is a swimwear model. Then you’ll buy my book.
Unfortunately, that’s not quite true. I’m older than you can possibly imagine. (Certainly older than I ever imagined until I suddenly woke up and realised that age had snuck up on me.) I live in Richmond, which is nice and on the outskirts of London which is a truly amazing city to live in. My wife is beautiful but, more importantly, she’s a lawyer, which is handy because a household with a writer in it always needs someone who can earn decent money. My son has left home and we never got round to the daughter.
We did have a ferret, which I thought would be an appropriately writer sort of thing to have around but he  eventually got even older than me (in ferret years) and died. I’d try to say something snappy and amusing about that but we loved that ferret and snappy and amusing doesn’t quite cut it.
I street skate and ski and can dance a mean Argentine tango. I’ve spent a lot of my life writing very boring things for money (unless you’re in Customer Care, in which case ‘Dealing With Customer Complaints’ is really, really interesting). Now I’m writing for fun.
If you all buy my books, I’ll be able to finish the next ones and I’ll never have to write for the insurance industry again and that will be a good thing, yes? So you’ll not only get to read a brilliant novel but your karmic balance will move rapidly into credit.
Can I go back to being reclusive now?
Tom loves to hear from readers. You can contact him:

Land of Silver
When charismatic adventurer James Brooke travels to Borneo on the schooner Royalist, he plans to make a great fortune establishing trade between the natives and the British Empire. But even in his flights of fancy, he'd never imagined that he would end up rajah of his own country. The story is told by John Williamson, a young sailor who has travelled with Brooke since he set out from England. They find themselves mixed up in Borneo's civil war, political divisions, and intrigue, being forced further and further away from their dreams and ideals and struggling to establish the British presence on the island - as, meanwhile, love grows between them ... Based on the true story of James Brooke, the first White Rajah of Sarawak, this tale of adventure and love is set against the background of a jungle world of extraordinary beauty and savagery.

Amazon US   Amazon UK

Friday, 16 February 2018

Life in the time of… Richard, Duke of Gloucester and Lord John Elder by Derek Birks #History #Medieval #RichardIII @Feud_writer

Life in the time of… Richard, Duke of Gloucester and Lord John Elder.
By Derek Birks

1483  was a year of crisis – possibly one of the most hotly debated crises in history and certainly in late medieval English history.

Why? Because it involved the overthrow and probable death of a boy king, Edward V, and at the same time it propelled onto the pages of history Richard, Duke of Gloucester and later Richard III - a man that everyone seems either to love or loathe!

What makes it so fascinating is the speed with which apparently stable government descended into chaos.

At Easter 1483 all was well in the kingdom of England. The king, Edward IV, was in his forties and had two male heirs to succeed him. In the north he had the support of his trusted brother, Richard Duke of Gloucester, in whom he had vested great power and influence. Elsewhere, several other loyal magnates kept the kingdom at peace: Thomas Stanley in the north-west, the Howards in East Anglia, Lord William Hastings in the Midlands and Anthony Woodville, Earl Rivers in the West. Rivers, the queen’s brother, also acted as the governor of Edward, Prince of Wales at Ludlow.

As I said, all was well - until, after a sudden short illness, King Edward IV died.

With amazing rapidity, chaos ensued as jealousies kept under control by the late king now reared up and threatened to tear the governing classes apart.

Lord Hastings, fearful that the queen’s relatives would wield more power under the new king, 12 year old Edward V, wrote in panic to Richard of Gloucester urging him to come south with all speed. Meanwhile the King’s Council attempted to make plans for Edward’s coronation amid an atmosphere of rumour and suspicion.
Then on 29th April 1483, seemingly out of the blue, there was a coup.

Earl Rivers, escorting the young king to London, had arranged to meet the Dukes of Gloucester and Buckingham at Northampton, where we are told they enjoyed a convivial evening. The following morning, however, Rivers and several other officers of the crown, were arrested by Gloucester and Buckingham.

This single act changed the political landscape radically.

So much has been written about the sequence of events that followed the arrest that I shall not attempt to add to it here. The issue which has captured people’s imagination most – almost from 1483 onwards to the present day - is the question of what happened to Edward V and his younger brother – the so-called ‘princes in the tower’.
Everyone has a view on this from the ‘man – or woman - on the street’ to the most eminent historians we have.

Spoiler alert! We don’t know the answer and since the evidence to support any explanation is almost non-existent, folk have resorted to other means. 
The best we can do is try to consider what could have happened and historical fiction is as good a way as any to see how the events of 1483 might have played out.

My new novel, The Blood of Princes, is woven tightly around the historical events of 1483 and some of the actual people closely involved in the events. My story is about the survival of the Elders – a middling baronial family (fictional) - but it is closely entwined with the fate of the princes and Richard, Duke of Gloucester.

The Blood of Princes is the second in a series called The Craft of Kings. It tells the story of how the Elder family, notably the hero, Lord John Elder, become embroiled in the events of 1483.

So who is John Elder and where does he fit into the crisis of 1483?

John is a minor lord who owns ten manors in various parts of the country – typical perhaps of those men of moderate substance who provided the backbone of any medieval local government. He and other members of his family have strong connections with the previous king, Edward IV. [For which, see my Rebels & Brothers series]

In my story, John is assigned to protect young Edward V – having had some dealings with him when he was Prince of Wales in the previous book, Scars from the Past.
Since he is with Earl Rivers at the point of his arrest, our protagonist is at the centre of the whole story from the start.

John is a taciturn sort of chap, recently married and still not entirely sure how to live with his father’s rather daunting legend. Thus he brings his own character flaws and anxieties to a situation that has more than enough already.

Through the eyes of John, his relatives and household men and women, we witness the interaction of the real people of the royal court. We feel the tension begin to rise; we wince at the betrayals, and experience the fears and doubts of those in London at a time of very great uncertainty.

And what of those without power, wealth or influence?

I always like to include a raft of characters who inhabit the darker recesses of late medieval society at its lower levels. In this book the focus is on London, so we have an array of town-dwelling common folk: humble archers and men at arms, serving girls and whores. These people also had a part to play in events though they existed in a sort of parallel universe.

Their struggle for survival had more to do with scratching out a living in a brutal world of filth, poverty and crime than worrying about who would be the next king. Most knew their place and their place was at the bottom of the heap. Yet in every important event these people are there; they are involved – required even - if political actions are to have any substance or meaning.

While I have sought to provide an outcome as far as the princes are concerned and have tried to give some context and explanation for the motives of several key political players, this is a work of fiction, not history.

As someone who has studied exhaustively and taught the events of this period over decades, I think I can reasonably claim to know a little about it. Do I believe this is how it might have happened in 1483? Aside from the fictional elements of my story, yes, I do, but I do not claim to be ‘right’ – because no-one can!

Derek Birks
Derek was born in Hampshire in England but spent his teenage years in Auckland, New Zealand, where he still has strong family ties. On his return to England, after eight years abroad, he read history at Reading University.
As long as he can remember, Derek has loved books and he always wanted to write. By the age of 17, he was writing stories, songs, poetry – in fact virtually anything. Inevitably, after university, work and family life took precedence and for many years he taught history in a secondary school. Though he enjoyed teaching immensely, he also found a creative outlet in theatrical activities: stage-managing musicals and outdoor Shakespeare, including a performance of Henry VIII for the Queen’s Silver Jubilee in 1977 at Windsor Castle.
In 2010 Derek took early retirement to concentrate on writing. He aims to write action-packed fiction, rooted in accurate history. Though he is interested in everything historical, his particular favourite is the late medieval period. So far he has completed one 4-book series, entitled Rebels and Brothers, which is set during the Wars of the Roses and he has now embarked on another Wars of the Roses series: The Craft of Kings. The series begins with Scars from the Past. 
‘As with all good historical fiction, the reader learns fascinating period detail while being entertained by an experienced author who knows his trade.’  Historical Novel Society review of Scars from the Past

Apart from his writing, he enjoys travelling – often to carry out research for his books - and also spends his time gardening, walking and taking part in archaeological digs.
You can find Derek...
Twitter  Website  Blog  Facebook Amazon author page 

The Blood of Princes

A savage tale of love, treason and betrayal.
A bloody struggle for power at the heart of the royal court.

In April 1483, the sudden death of King Edward IV brings his twelve year old son to the throne.
Restless young lord and ex-mercenary John Elder is newly-appointed to the service of Edward, Prince of Wales, and charged with the boy’s safety. His first task, escorting the new king to London for his coronation, seems a simple one but the accession of a boy king raises concerns among the leading noblemen of the land.
As old jealousies and feuds are rekindled, the new king’s uncle, Richard, Duke of Gloucester, seizes control and plunges the kingdom into crisis. But is Gloucester young Edward’s enemy, or saviour?
While John, outlawed and trapped, must wait to see how events unfold, other members of the battle-scarred Elder family are drawn, one by one, into his conspiracy. Soon they are mired so deep in the murky underbelly of London society, that there seems no hope of escape from the tangle of intrigue and murder.
In the end, all lives will hang upon the outcome of a daring incursion into the Tower of London itself.